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UN report finds widespread sexual assault in Asia-Pacific region

A quarter of men surveyed in six countries in the Asia-Pacific region have admitted to committing rape. The prevalence of rape varied widely between locations, according to a UN report.

In the first regional study of its scale, "Why Do Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How Can We Prevent It?," researchers interviewed more than 10,000 men aged between 18 and 49 in Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea. Authors said they did not intend for the survey to serve as an authoritative statistical overview of rape in these six countries or of the Asia-Pacific region.

"Violence against women is a harsh reality for many," Roberta Clarke, regional director of UN Women, said at the launch of the report in Bangkok. "We must change the culture that enables men to enact power and control over women."

Such research has depended mainly on interviews with women or on crime reports - with rapes often going unreported and official accounts sometimes skewed toward men. Taking a new tack, trained male interviewers conducted lengthy one-on-one surveys with men in several cities as well as rural areas, with the respondents guaranteed anonymity.

Researchers did not use the term "rape," but instead such questions as "Have you ever forced a woman who was not your wife or girlfriend at the time to have sex?" or "Have you ever had sex with a woman who was too drugged or drunk to indicate whether she wanted it?" They also asked why the men had done so.

"The study was premised on the well-documented hypothesis that violence against women is a manifestation of unequal gender relations and harmful manifestations of hegemonic masculinity governed by patriarchal beliefs, institutions and systems," according to the report, which was funded by several UN agencies, as well as Australia, Britain, Norway and Sweden and released Tuesday in the journal Lancet Global Health.

'Pervasive'

Twenty-four percent of respondents admitted to having raped women, 11 percent when excluding the men's partners from the questions.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they had raped women because, for example, "I wanted her" or "I wanted to have sex." Fifty-nine percent said they did it for entertainment. Thirty-eight percent said they had raped women to punish them.

Teenagers made up about half the men who admitted to rape, with 12 percent younger than 15 years old. Forty-five percent of the men who admitted to rape said they had assaulted more than one woman. The majority said they had not faced any legal consequences for their actions.

Researchers found the highest incidence of rape in Bougainville, in Papua New Guinea, at over 62 percent. In the restive neighboring Indonesian region of Papua the rates stood at about 49 percent; 26 percent of respondents in the capital, Jakarta, admitted to rape.

In Bangladesh, China and Indonesia, about 2 percent of subjects reported having raped another man. In Sri Lanka and Cambodia the average ran between 3 and 4 percent while the figure stood around 8 percent in Papua New Guinea.

"Violence is pervasive but it is also preventable," said report researcher Emma Fulu, of Partners for Prevention. "The factors we found associated with violence are changeable," she added, citing high rates of child abuse, recent conflicts and poor law enforcement.

A previous report from the World Health Organization found that one-third of women worldwide say they have experienced domestic or sexual abuse. "It's clear violence against women is far more widespread in the general population than we thought," said Rachel Jewkes of South Africa's Medical Research Council, who led the UN and WHO studies.

mkg/kms (AFP, dpa, AP)